Jaan Pakistan: ‘It’s not just about cooking stoves’

Imagine a world where low-income communities can meet their domestic energy needs with affordable renewable energy and energy-efficient products.

Today, Jaan Pakistan, an award-winning social startup dedicated to research and manufacturing of affordable energy solutions for low-income communities across Pakistan, is helping turn this ambition into reality.

Jaan Pakistan’s primary research initiative is to indigenise well-established renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies and spread them across Pakistan’s marginalised communities. Earlier this year, they launched a range of solar and energy-efficient cooking stoves. And to keep up with changing times they are also developing and testing prototypes to solve energy problems in rural areas.

When asked how they stumbled into the business of saving lives through renewable energy cooking stoves, Jaan Pakistan Founder Khizr Imran Tajammul revealed: “Honestly, I never thought I was going to be researching or selling stoves. I didn’t also imagine cooking stoves could save lives.”

Tajammul and Danyal Tirmazi, the chief cooperating as well as financial officer of Jaan Pakistan, two mid-career professionals, are co-founders of the startup.

In October 2014, the project won a social business competition in Dublin for an indigenous, low-cost solar water heater. The product was inspired by the scarcity of basic fuels such as natural gas and the rising cost of imported solar water heaters.

“Flying back to Lahore, I was only thinking about those heaters,” Tajammul reminisced. “On my return, I started stringing together a team of similarly motivated individuals. Soon, when we stepped out into the field, and started surveying low-income communities outside Lahore, we discovered a myriad of other problems – and the demand for warm water was clearly not among them.”

He added: “Most people complained about the rising cost of firewood. Some even said they spent a quarter of their income on buying firewood. We knew immediately we had to change gear.”

Last January, when they dug deeper, they were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead of them. “Three billion people still burn firewood and dung cakes to cook their meals – that’s nearly half the planet… and 4.3 million people die because of inhaling solid fuel fumes,” he added.

Tajammul went on to explain how in a sea of vested interests, many factors contributed to the misappropriation of funds and that it is easy to lose track of what really matters when profit making is paramount.

“We allow timber mafias to flourish and look away as they sweep huge tracts of forest land. We don’t realise what losing 47,000 hectares of forest every year will eventually do to us. Every year floods are fiercer, the landslides more devastating and the air less fit to breathe. The big players are busy making money at the cost of our future.”

Indeed, the numbers are compelling, and the poignant questions about our very existence are equally compelling. Does Jaan Pakistan have what it takes to pull this mission through?

Subsequently, I began to zoom into the micro mechanics of Jaan Pakistan – bills and salaries and other menial expenses that creep up on startups that are bootstrapping. It was fascinating to know they stretched operations for over a year with a meagre $20,000 worth of seed funding, courtesy the Rwanga Social Startup Competition in October 2014.

Jaan Pakistan is currently working in off-grid communities around Lahore, testing a wide range of products, assessing culinary behaviours and adaptability levels with respect to varying technologies (among other key indicators) that could help them introduce ‘a new pattern’ in rural Pakistan.

On seeking ‘help’, and Jaan Pakistan’s plans past the teething stage, Tajammul mentioned how governments and international aid organisations could scale a ‘successful working model’ like no other entity.

“The government can influence millions of people in a blink with a nationwide policy change,” he said. “It could also plough money in research, something a young private entity cannot afford but a large, bureaucratic machine might not be the best for solving problems at the grassroots.”

“After all, the government was designed to maintain order, exert authority and extract resources needed across the British empire — not to serve people at the bottom of the pyramid — and in many ways the government hasn’t evolved much since then. This is why we want to master the solution before collaborating with anyone on a mass scale,” he explained.

To meet the immediate shortfall in funding and introduce an entirely new line of high-end renewable energy products for affluent urban consumers across the globe, Jaan Pakistan is launching its first crowd-funding campaign by the end of the month.

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